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Sunday, October 17, 2010

KOTA hopes for a community garden (amongst other things!)

Kids on the Avenue Children's Centre in Coburg had a battle on their hands a while back and faced closure.

Since emerging from their financial crisis the board continues to work to secure their future and one project they are looking into is the building of a community garden.

Their proposal is currently doing the rounds at MP level (Maxine Morand/Bronwyn Pike), Moreland Council have been writing letters to progress it and to try and secure a 20 year lease over the vacant land surrounding the premises.

They plan part use of the land for a community garden and part use for a new purpose built kindergarten, bigger maternal health and allied health service which would free up space in the current building so they could offer more day care. 

A proportion of the food grown there would go be used to feed the kids at the centre to whom the garden would be accessible (as well as to community gardeners).

So many benefits could flow from this including:
  • Community - building a stronger bond between the local community and the centre through gardening and food,
  • Sustainability - reducing the centre's environmental footprint,
  • Teaching kids about gardening and food -  helping kids to experience the joy of growing food that they can eat themselves and informing them about the origins of food,
  • Food security - providing kids with access to healthy, safe food.
Good luck to them with this whole enterprise!

Mulberry Garden Open Day 20th November

Hello Everyone,

The people at Mulberry Gardens will be holding an open day on November 20th from 10:30-2:30, with live music, planting workshop, wood fired pizza and cafĂ©. 

Despite not receiving further funding from Moreland council the garden is continuing to grow (people and plants.) I attended their pizza over building workshops over the last few weeks and can't wait to see it in action.

Come and show your support, grab a bite to eat and enjoy the sunshine (hopefully)!

Promoting sustainability, health and inclusion in the city - Canberra 2010

Elspeth Brock works in community horticulture around Moreland with Merri Community Health Services. She's working with three community gardens (that I know of anyway) - Merri Corner in Brunswick, Mulberry in Glenroy and Ilma Lever in Coburg). She recently recently attended a community garden conference in Canberra and provided the following sum up that you may find interesting. (Thanks Elspeth)

Community Garden Conference- Promoting sustainability, health and inclusion in the city, Canberra 2010.
Articles and presentations will be available as an on line resource soon

The conference was an interesting mix of garden case studies, academic research and the global perspective. There was much about influencing policy and the importance of networking.

Myles Bremmer from Garden Organic UK was a key note speaker who highlighted the need not just for smiling faced kids in gardens but evidence based research, and government policy for community gardens (CG) to really influence food sovereignty. There was much discussion of how council can help/ hinder CG, but an overall view was that policy if needed to assist with development of a lease system that cuts through the red tape of council planning departments and make available funding for early stages of development. It is difficult working with state and federal government as CG cuts across various departments-is is health, planning, environment?

CG were presented as essential to the sustainability of our cities, for the 1st time on earth 50% of people live in an urban environment. There is also a lack of data about how CG actual contribute to sustainability- looking at ecological functioning, biological diversity, productivity, waste management etc.

Christine Milne the greens senator for Tasmania said that presently the federal policy makers see GMO and large scale corporate farming as the only solutions to food security; they see CG as good and quaint but not as a real answer to food issues. She suggested we need to make more of a link between community gardens as a way for people to appreciate fresh, local seasonal produce, the difficulty and skill of growing and how this could directly link in to support for local farmers. She noted the importance of CG facilitating farmers markets, community supported agriculture and other food systems outside of the large supermarkets which do not give farmers a sustainable future. This could provide an important bridge between ‘greens’ and farmers, city and country.

Other speakers discussed how we should not give an overly romanticized view of CG but discuss challenges and solutions as this shows how CG contribute to dynamic and adaptive communities. The challenges of engaging truly disadvantaged groups were also highlighted by building local peoples skills. These skills often related to management- conflict resolution, group facilitation, and engagement strategies. The large range of benefits of CG mentioned included social inclusion of people with disability, migrants and ethnic communities, community resilience, healthy eating, food security, safety of local communities, connections with nature and mental health, and an awareness of larger food production/ food security issues. More research in measuring the benefits is always useful when trying to influence policy.

The benefits of support workers for CG was highlighted through the example of WA was given where a position for a statewide community garden worker that ran for 2 years, this helped prevent volunteer burn out, strengthen existing gardens, provide advice and support when seeking funding, help new gardens access information, organize larger scale state networking events and develop a state wide web site.

Myles Bremmer summed up the conference with a ‘where to from here’. He recommended food sovereignty as a better term than food security. That in Australia we need to:
  1. Be clear about what a CG is, who the constituents are- individual plots / or specific social group being targeted
  2. Get clear on the facts and figures- no one presently know how many CG there even are in Australia, how many volunteers etc. Need a national network, numbers to influence policy.
  3. Develop a narrative of what CG want - insurance, policy?
  4. Have a ‘crazy celebrity gardener’ (everyone looks towards Costa) to inspire the community and the suit behind to work with policy makers
  5. Be pro-active to show case gardens - local council, media
  6. Assert food citizen rights (right influence how, where, what our food is/ comes from)

Interesting Links:

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Coburg Community Garden Update - Part 2: Council Site Review

A while back when we made initial contact with Council we were encouraged to propose our site so that the Asset department could establish its status. At that stage, we had a list of locations that might be suitable. Far too vague. We agreed to submit a short-list of potential sites rather than narrow ourselves to one.

Each of the locations on our map was rated between 1 and 5 (1 being poor, 5 being ideal) for the following criteria:

  • Size,
  • Toilet Access,
  • Aspect/Sunlight,
  • Water Access / Harvesting,
  • Access to site.
Here are the sites we proposed to council for review (in no particular order).
Last week Council indicated that they see two sites as possibly viable - 29 Reynard St (possibly earmarked for sale) and the unused Trugo Club near Newlands Community Centre (not on our list as we didn't know about it then but it was pointed out to me by some people involved with the community centre).

Council say they should finalise their review and provide an update next week, more when we hear something.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Coburg Community Garden Update - Part 1: Moreland Council Policy Activity

Well, progress on a community garden in Coburg has been slow over Winter but we have a few small, exciting things to report.

This is the first of three posts updating on our progress

1. Council Policy Activity
In July, Moreland Council revealed that they are developing a "policy" on community gardens. Here's what we know now:

As a part of their Open Space Strategy review, the unit responsible for open space planning and development is putting together some assessment criteria to be considered by Council when they receive requests for the use of space under Council management for community gardens. They say that hopefully "a draft revised Open Space Strategy will be out for public consultation in November."

They are working with other key areas (Property Services Unit, Sustainable Development Unit and Social Policy Unit) to resolve how they should best support and resource these initiatives in the future. They say "allowing community gardens in parks has the potential to become a controversial issue so the assessment criteria for the use of public space and parks in particular is fairly critical, as these requests are growing and Council does not have a uniform position."

Promisingly, they add that "at this point, there is no specific designated Council funding to support these initiatives but there are potential funding opportunities through the community grants program and there is a genuine willingness and desire by Council to support these initiatives where possible."

They say the growing number of requests for community garden developments have been directed to a range of Council areas. They hope to formulate a more comprehensive Council approach and an agreed position on the development of these initiatives. The assessment process relating to land use and Council parks that they are working on will form part of the total approach but is also probably the most urgent matter requiring a resolution.

In my view, although this helps clarify their position, lots of questions remain:
  • What criteria are they considering? Presumably some relate to the site and others to the group applying?
  • What is the consultation process and who is being consulted? 
  • How are they arriving at their draft policy?
  • What can we do as a group to give ourselves the best chance?
  • Does this mean proposals are being held over until this strategy document is completed?
  • What is the time-scale for release of the final document?
I'm also intrigued by their mention of the growing number of requests.

I know of at least one other group that has approached Council for support but would like to know how many other requests there have been and from whom?

It would be good to co-ordinate these requests so we work in an organised way with Council. If several groups are unknowingly asking for access to the same space for a garden, then it would be great to link up. We'd surely have a stronger case then and we wouldn't want different groups competing for the same ground. It would also save Council time if the published their assessments to avoid repeated requests for space that is not suitable for whatever reason.

Next step: Contact Council for an update in the next few weeks and to ask the questions I've mentioned above.